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  An American Manifesto
Friday October 24, 2014 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter

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ROAD TO THE

MIDDLE CLASS

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Bibliography

Chapter 1:
After the Welfare State

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We’re in favor of a lot of things, and we’re against mighty few —Lyndon Johnson, 1964
I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for —Howard Dean, 2005

WHAT WILL come after the welfare state?  After 120 years, at the turn of the twenty-first century, it is clearly showing its age.  Its great initiatives—universal education, universal superannuation, universal health care—have become corrupt monstrosities sucking up vast resources for a modest return.  Its devotees are reduced to more and more desperate stratagems to hold onto political power and to maintain the sinecures and the pensions of its functionaries and followers.  The welfare state is no longer a grand new vision, but a patched up expedient, an aging dynasty that may have lost the mandate of heaven.  Its strategy is all about hanging on.

Of course, back in the nineteenth century when the welfare state was conceived, nobody could have imagined how its vision would actually turn out after the glow of reform had receded and its taxes and benefits had become routine.  The brains behind it all, the German Marxists and British Fabians, had seen the misery of the workers and were determined to use other people’s money to relieve their sufferings.  The Marxists knew that the suffering of the workers was due to their oppression by the bourgeoisie, and the Fabians knew that it was due to the waste and inefficiency of Individualism and the higgling of the market.  A grand narrative was developed to explain the welfare state in the form of a three-act play.  In the golden age of the middle ages, the poor were treated with compassion and understanding, as the church led society by example to make proper provision for the poor and the indigent, formalizing its customs into the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601.  But this was followed by the Fall under the influence of the classical economists and laissez-faire ideology.  In the nineteenth century the poor were stigmatized as morally flawed, categorized into “worthy” and “unworthy,” and the indigent were barracked into the hell of indoor relief in union workhouses and county almshouses.  But a new age dawned as the nineteenth century progressed, the new age of the professional and national welfare state run by educated and compassionate activists and informed by modern social science research.

Despite the belief that the welfare state was established in the teeth of opposition from aristocratic reactionaries, the truth is that it was founded in Germany by the aristocratic reactionary Otto von Bismarck, who implemented the program of the Social Democratic opposition to cool the ardor of their supporters and increase support for the Prussian monarchy he served.  It wasn’t very long before Britain’s Edward VII added his royal approval: “We are all socialists now.”  Thus endorsed by progressives and reactionaries, the movement went from strength to strength in the first half of the twentieth century.  It organized the poor into great political machines, and turned government into a vast patronage operation to reward them for their support.  It also provided a vast and satisfying role for the governing classes: to cook up and serve the complicated menu of benefits that the welfare state would distribute.  By the 1920s an array of commentators had decided that mastering the growing complexity of life in the city was beyond capacity of the average citizen.  Experts would construct the complex institutions and programs that the average citizen needed but was incompetent to construct or to choose.

Even as the welfare state continues its inexorable expansion into the twenty-first century, sensitive observers have sensed a change in the wind.  Electoral success for socialist parties has begun to be difficult.  After winning one out of five presidential elections in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, moderate Democrats formed the Democratic Leadership Council to move the Democratic Party towards the political center and fueled the presidential candidacy of Bill Clinton.  After losing four straight elections in the United Kingdom, leader Tony Blair reinvented the Labour Party into “New Labour” as a party of the center rather than an orthodox party of the left.  A mini-industry of books has arisen to deal with the evident senescence of the welfare state political movement.  In The Politics of Meaning, Michael Lerner has attempted to find a new way for progressive politics to recover an identification with the spiritual and escape from its identification with material security and well being.  In The Radical Center, Ted Halstead and Michael Lind attempt to find a “radical middle” political ground for the plurality of Americans who identify neither with the Democratic party or the Republican party but that takes ideas from both parties: from the right, ending the corporate income tax and affirmative action; and from the left, a mandatory national health insurance and equalized school funding nationwide.  In The Underclass, Ken Auletta looks at the culture of the underclass and concludes that carrot and stick are needed to help the poor get off their “hustles” and get into the formal economy.  This movement represents an attempt to define a Third Way, a compromise between the perceived orthodoxy of welfare statism on the left, and pro-business bourgeois politics on the right.

But to characterize the Third Way as a movement is misleading.  Both in its incarnation in the United States under the guidance of the Democratic Leadership Council and in the United Kingdom as New Labour, the Third Way is a top-down expedient, an effort by political leaders to rescue their parties from the political wilderness: to stop losing at the polls.  Both in the United States and the United Kingdom the model of left-wing progressivism—a working class party led by the best and the brightest—was breaking down, losing contact with the great mass of voters that were no longer working class in outlook or as responsive to the class war politics that had proved such a potent winner in the middle years of the twentieth century.  The Third Way is best understood as an attempt by savvy political leaders to head their political parties away from the precipice, to return them to power and keep them there.  It is, in fact, the progressive movement in its Tory phase, a strategic retreat by a mature power hierarchy, maintaining power by brilliant strategic maneuver, but slowly yielding ground step by step to the wave of the future.  It has not yet asked itself whether its strategy negates the whole socialist vision.  It has certainly not conducted a dialogue with the rank-and-file progressives who remain deeply suspicious of their modernizing leaders.

In The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism, economist and Nobel Prize laureate Robert William Fogel got as close as any progressive has dared to the root of the problem.  A liberal iconoclast who was not afraid to write about the economic benefits to the American slave owners, he understood the perilous strategic position of the progressive forces at the end of the twentieth century.  Though proud that the progressive political program had improved the material condition of the poor dramatically over the last century, he had to admit that it failed in its central promise.  The progressives had claimed that the “social question,” the scandalous material deprivation of the huddled masses in the great industrial cities, could be solved by material improvement.  The idea that the poor were drowning in vice, and needed a program of character building and embourgeoisification, was a vicious canard.  What the poor lacked were material resources that had been denied them by an oppressive and uncaring political system.  The poor were like the cultivators of parched fields denied water in a valley drained by a great river.  A small dam, a modest network of distribution canals was surely all that stood between misery and prosperity.  Why not do it, make the desert flower, and raise the poor to prosperity?  With a helping hand the poor would soon rise, not just to middle class standards of living, but recover to the natural sense of community that they had lost when pitched into industrial servitude.


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Click for Chapter 2: Down in South Carolina and Out in Brooklyn

 

Buy the ebook: Road to the Middle Class: only $0.99.

 

Your comments are welcome. Please e-mail to Christopher Chantrill at mailto:chrischantrill@gmail.com, and take the RMC test here.

 TAGS


Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.


Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050


Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust


What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican


Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State


Moral Imperatives of Modern Culture

These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self


US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Society and State

For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008


Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006


Never Trust Experts

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Lord Salisbury, “Letter to Lord Lytton”


 

©2007 Christopher Chantrill